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Explainer Article and Examples
Let us solve the problems that have caused us so much frustration and chaosDonald Steward9/1/2014

When people donít see the problems that adversely affect them being solved, they become frustrated. People then disagree and argue ineffectually. They abandon their use of reason. Then all hell breaks out.

Today, we are seeing this all around the world. Congress is in gridlock unable to do anything productive. The Arab Spring has resulted in mayhem. Israelis and Palestinians are unable to negotiate a resolution to their differences. People all over are rising up against their governments that are ineffective at solving their peopleís problems.

What can we do about this? We must solve these problems. But advances in technology have allowed us to produce situations that are so complex that they are beyond our capacity to deal with them.

If you have the facts and cause-and-effect relations, in principal you should be able to solve these problems. People are good at coming up with the cause-and-effects. But if the situation is at all complicated, they are unable to put enough of these cause-and-effects together logically to understand their implications.

I have been able to develop a method and computer programs called the Explainer that can help people collaborate to collect and discuss the cause-and-effects, and then do the logic to connect the cause-and-effects to obtain their consequences. As they are shown how these consequences were arrived at, they can improve their cause-and-effects until they can eventually solve even very complex problems.

We, the Explainer and I, have succeeded in solving many of the problems that have thrown Congress into complete disorder. I will demonstrate how we have solved or at least been able to shed light on several of the problems that have thrown Congress into such disarray that they have been unable to function in the peopleís interests.

But the Explainer is seen by many people as just another complexity that only adds to the complexity of their already too complicated lives. So we need another way to communicate to our Congressional representatives in a way they can deal with so they can see how we have been able to shed light on a number of the problems they must contend with.

Frequently, just framing the problem properly is enough so that people can change their thinking, allowing them to see how they can handle these problems.

For example, Congress is divided into two hostile camps, some saying that the deficit should be reduced more rapidly, and others saying that there should be more investment in education, infrastructure, and research to improve our prosperity in the future. But this would increase the deficit. Perhaps we should put the two problems together and reframe them as one problem as follows: How do we obtain the greatest prosperity in the future at the least cost to our prosperity today? This reframing gives us a problem we can sink our teeth into rather than just argue or complain about. It also raises the question of whether we and Congress even believe in preparing for a future. It often appears that Congress is too concerned with the present and ignores the future as though it would never occur.

But with some problems it might not be so obvious how to reframe them. We then have to use a tool such as the Explainer. For example, consider the problem of finding the fundamental causes of the financial crisis and widening wealth gap. The Explainer and I were able to trace the causes back to the asymmetry of the information available to the different parties in negotiations.

Consider the negotiations of subprime mortgages. The lenders had greater knowledge of their self-interests than did the borrowers, giving the lenders an unfair advantage that allowed them to take the borrowers to the cleaners.

Asymmetry of information in negotiations is a fundamental flaw in the capitalist system. It allows some to take advantage of others, which is undoubtedly a contributing cause to the widening wealth gap.

Adam Smith in his 1776 book The Wealth of Nations told us that if people negotiated in their own self-interests, this would produce an economy that would allocate resources efficiently and each would gain from the economy in measure to what he contributed to the economy. The flaw in our capitalist system is that each party to the negotiation must have the information he needs to properly represent his self-interests. The violation of this assumption is a vital flaw in the capitalist system.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was set up to remedy this flaw. It has been effective developing model contracts and helping people gain the knowledge they will need in negotiations. Congress must see that the CFPB is properly financed.

Originally, I used the Explainer to determine whether something is true or false. But not everything is either true or false. This concept was rather limiting. Now I associate with each effect a variable that can move either Up or Down, increase or decrease, or make matters better or worse. This is sufficient to identify what policies will achieve what we want to accomplish and what policies will interfere with what we want we are trying to do.

When I began to study how to solve problems using cause-and-effects, I realized that with many of the problems we face, there are cause-and-effect circuits. So I had to come up with a way to deal with circuits. I found some surprising and very useful properties of these cause-and-effect circuits.

If A causes B and B causes C and C causes A, we have a cause-and-effect circuits. We confine sets of cause-and-effects that interact with each other into what we call blocks. Every circuit is in one block or another. Blocks have two modes of operation that cause different ways the system can cycle. Cycles that are beneficial are called virtuous cycles, and cycles that are detrimental are called vicious cycles. A problem can contain both virtuous and vicious cycles operating at the same time that are fighting each another.

We can distinguish the causes that drive the virtuous cycle from the causes that drive the vicious cycle. This tells us how to develop policies that emphasize the virtuous cycles and deemphasize the vicious ones.

Let me provide a simple example of a cycle. Assume that we believe that the economy is being held down by the lack of demand for the products and services its businesses are able to produce. The lack of demand comes from many people not having the money to buy these products and services. Businesses donít produce goods and services for which there is no demand. But if they hire more people and/or provide a higher wage for the people they have employed, more people will have the money to demand the products and services that the businesses produce. This could stimulate the economy and generate more jobs.

This is a cause-and-effect circuit. An interesting side observation: people demand goods and services, but automation equipment does not produce any demand for the goods and services it helps to produce. Also, automation doesnít pay taxes, but employees do. So by over automating, we may be shooting ourselves in the foot because we are not generating jobs for people who can produce demand. Also, consider whether raising minimum wages might produce more demand that will drive the businesses that could stimulate the economy to provide more jobs.

The most important thing we can do is to reframe ourselves. We currently think of ourselves as either Republicans or Democrats. Perhaps we should reframe ourselves to think of ourselves as either problem solvers or their antagonists.

I believe that people would prefer to be considered among the problem solvers rather than among the antagonists. Then they will be more open to trying to reframe and solve their problems rather than just argue about them. And perhaps when necessary using the Explainer to help reframe the problems, we can make some progress toward resolving them.

So this gives us several things that Congress can do productively rather than just engaging in unproductive bickering. They just have to think differently.

Now we need people to challenge Congress to take these approaches seriously. Annoy your members of Congress and get them to take seriously whether reformulating these problems might change their thinking and bring us closer to these problems being solved.  


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